This amazing and very different pass has a surreal feel about it and it's easy to see how it earned its name. It's barren and virtually devoid of plant life or water leaving one with a distinctly vulnerable feeling. The striking feature of this pass is the narrow valley where passing travellers have built hundreds of thousand of stone cairns along the sides of the track - a modern day ritual to ensure you have a touble-free journey over the pass.
Confusingly, there is another Helskloof Pass just 70 km to the north-west of this one on the western side of the Richtersveld National Park most famous for its endemic Helskloof aloe. We distinguish the two passes as Helskloof (Cairns) and Helskloof (Aloes) for ease of reference.
This pass is quite long at 14,4 km and has an altitude variance of 360m, producing an average gradient of 1:40. Due to the isolated nature of this pass, we recommend travelling in a small convoy of at least 2 vehicles. The pass connects Eksteenfontein in the south with Noordoewer and Vioolsdrif in the north. We recommend a high clearance 4x4 and two spare wheels. Please carry emergency drinking water with you.
The Richtersberg Pass is a dramatic, but fairly short pass which forms part of the final access road to reach the Richtersberg camp-sites and the Tatasberg chalets. The pass is 2,3 km long and has an altitude variance of 107m, producing an average gradient of 1:21. There is only a single, fairly short technical section, where low range should be used which is at the summit point, where the road is both very steep, as well as rough. The gradient gets as steep as 1:5 at this neck.
The views throughout the pass are magnificent as the road produces a variety of mountain and desert floor perspectives.
The Helskloof Pass starts off by being thoroughly confusing. It's difficult determining where it starts and ends and to add fuel to the fire, there are two Helskloof passes within the Richtersveld area. This one is located within the boundaries of the national park, whilst the other one is between Eksteenfontein and Vioolsdrif.
This is a long, slow pass to traverse, which will take at least one hour, excluding stops, but the visual rewards are well worth the effort. The pass lies fairly close to the main access road to Sendelingsdrif near the SANParks control gate on the western side of the reserve. It can accessed from that point and can be driven in the ascending mode, or driven the opposite way, which is a great way to exit the national park via one of its best showcase passes.
The most distinctive feature of this pass is the presence of the unique purplish coloured aloe commonly known as the Helskloof Aloe, but correctly named Aloe Pearsonii after it's discoverer. The unique aloe only grows in the Helskloof and nowhere else on earth.
The Maerpoort (which translates into Thin Passage) is 9,4 km long when measured from intersection to intersection. It has an easy average gradient of 1:41 and has an altitude variance of 230m. The summit views are exceptionally dramatic and it's one of the photographic hotspots in the Richtersveld. There is only just over 1 km of the total length of this poort which is technically complex. The entire balance of the poort is an easy meander across the sandy desert floor and a reasonably good speed can be maintained, with the only cautionary being the perpetual corrugations.
The views more than make up for the flat terrain as the composition of the geology changes around every corner with small black and ochre outcrops seemingly 'growing' out of the flat plains. Here and there a small shrub or small tree can be seen, but otherwise this poort is mountain desert in its purest form. Anyone wanting to access the campsites at Richtersberg, Tatasberg, Kokerboomkloof or Gannakouriep will need to traverse this poort first.
This fairly tricky pass is the second pass one encounters when entering the Richterveld National Park at Sendelingsdrif. The 5,1 km long pass twists and turns through the rugged Richtersveld mountains ascending 103m, producing an average gradient of 1:50 with the steepest part closer to the summit, reaching 1:11. The pass is named after the Halfmens (Half a Person) succulent Pachypodium namaquanum, which is endemic to this region.
There are a total of 36 bends, corners and curves several of which are sharper than 90 degrees. The road is rough in places and speed needs to be kept under 20 kph. Many parts of this pass should be driven in low range for precise control of your vehicle.
The Richtersveld National Park plays host to six official passes and poorts. The Swartpoort is easily the easiest of the six in terms of terrain and gradient and provides a gentle introduction to this stunning mountain desert with its harsh and rocky landscape, sandy plains and absence of plant life - or so it seems to the first time visitor, but to the more astute observer there is a whole world of succulents that thrive in this dry climate, if you take the trouble to look properly.
The Swartpoort is an easy meander along a sandy plain amongst some mountain ridges which display black coloured rocks, hence the name, Swartpoort. The poort starts soon after entering the national park at the Sendelingdrif main gate.
This is the second of the more serious passes in the Richtersveld National Park. Only 4WD vehicles with good ground clearance will cope with conditions in the Richtersveld, with the biggest obstacle being soft sand.
The Akkedis Pass (Eng. Lizard Pass) together with the Swartpoort and Halfmens Pass, connects the main entry point at Sendelingsdrif with the central and northern sector of the park. The scenery is truly magnificent and along this entire pass you are fully immersed in a true mountain desert. It takes a good 40 minutes to drive this pass and there are some sections on the northern ascent where low range should be utilised. The pass is 6 km long and climbs through 169m to summit at 578m ASL, producing an average gradient of 1:36, but there are several short sections that get as steep as 1:5. The pass is also sometimes referred to as the Penkop Pass.
Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.